Iran: No White Whale at Moby Dick’s

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It’s no secret to those who know me – I’m a ridiculously picky eater. I don’t eat seafood, meat-on-the-bone, duck, or goat and I’ve never been an ‘adventurous’ eater like Matt and Bridget.

I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2008, but I have no idea when I first tried the DMV’s “number one” Persian Kabob chain, Moby Dick – and more importantly I have no idea why I would have tried something so exotic.

That said, Moby Dick wasn’t my first Persian cuisine experience. I’ve always felt a strong kindred with Iranian-Americans and count some of my best-friends among them. One of the many perks of being friends with Iranian-American’s in the Phoenix area –is getting taken to dinner at The Persian Room. All this to say a couple basic facts: I love Iranian-Americans and am surprisingly fond of their cuisine.

Second-generation Iranian-Americans (aka the kids of Iranians who immigrated to the U.S.) are one of the most successful cultural groups in the U.S. I know this because I actually wrote a paper on the performance of second-generation Iranian-Americans for a class on modern Iranian history I took at Tulane. This high-level of performance is clearly passed on – as this abbreviated version of the story of Moby Dick’s founder Mike Daryoush clearly shows.

Iranian-born Mark Daryoush emigrated to the United States in 1975 and twelve years later opened a small sandwich shop in Bethesda. Wikipedia says that the restaurant served both American and Persian Middle Eastern dishes, but according to the full ‘creation story’ on MB’s website it was ‘tradish’ American cuisine only. Actually the website’s version of the story parallels your typical ‘the American-dream business story). So they say that for the first few years Mike’s restaurant struggled financially because the owners “insisted on using the highest-quality products they could source.” The website story-tellers add that “cutting corners was not in their belief system.” Then, one miraculous day Mike was inspired to put in a clay oven – so the restaurant could offer diners “freshly baked pita bread….just like the ones he used to eat growing up in Iran.” (Apparently, Mike was one of the first “pioneers’ to use a clay oven in the Washington Metro area).

Zing! The rest is history as they say. Moby Dick’s House of Kabob (named after a restaurant in Tehran) has been serving the hard-working members of Congress, government servants, lobbyists, dirty-tricksters, energy-efficiency suppliers, non-profit do-gooders, ambassadors, juvenile-detention guards, soccer-moms, and interns of the DC-MD-VA metro area ‘authentic,’ reasonably-priced Persian cuisine from it’s sixteen franchises.

Back when I lived in DC, I’d often get take-out from Moby Dick – and in had dragged Bridget there on multiple occasions in grad school. While visiting the lovely Bridget and Matt – I heard Matt complain about needing to make more blog posts on multiple occasions. And it quickly became clear that I wouldn’t make it through the weekend visit without paying my dues to my favorite couple’s food blog. Moby Dick’s was an easy choice since it’s basically the only ‘exotic’ restaurant in the DMV that I’ll eat at – and Bridget and Matt hadn’t checked ‘Iran’ off their list.

Today I had one of those hangovers that can only be treated with excessive amounts of food at regular increments. Matt and Bridget tricked me into writing this by tempting me with an offer to eat at Moby Dick’s. I suggested getting the food to go – since I generally feel the need to drink wine with dinner (particularly before long bus rides), but Matt wouldn’t have it and was certain that the food would be much better consumed ‘fresh’ even if the chain isn’t known for their charming atmosphere. After a failed attempt to eat at the Dupont Circle location (closed on Sundays – FYI), we decided to make the trek to the Arlington Moby Dick.

Moby Dick’s is pretty straight-forward – you go in you read dish description’s on the menu since the dish-names mean nothing to you (unless you speak Farsi), then pay, grab your food, and sit down at a table. Our meal started out with two well-stuffed baskets of fresh Naan (from the famous clay oven) and several servings of Must-O-Kheyer – a tangy yogurt sauce with cucumber, onion, and stuff.
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After demolishing one of the two baskets of Naan are food was over and the serious face-stuffing began. Plain-Paige here stuck with what my standard order – the Kabob Joohjeh rice platter with charred onions instead of tomatoes (that come standard) and extra Naan and Must-O-Kheyer. True to the creation story on their website – this local chain didn’t was consistent and my chicken kabob tasted exactly like it did the last time I ate there – which is more than a year ago. Matt and Bridget had some combo platters that included Chejeh (beef of sorts) goat chunks, and the same Joojeh chicken. They also enjoyed their Persian delights and we all ate a bit more than necessary.

Now as I sit on the bus several hours and reflect on the tasty meal, I can’t help but admire and appreciate Mike Daryoush’s boldness and Iranian-American ingenuity. Just think – if he hadn’t taken the clay-oven leap years ago, I’d be stuck on this bus, hungry and bored. Luckily Daryoush took a risk and ventured that maybe Americans wanted something new – and decided to start serving Iranian cuisine in DC. The End.

-Paige Knappenberger

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